Friday, October 28, 2016

A View From The Left- It’s No Crime to Film the Cops

Workers Vanguard No. 1098
21 October 2016
It’s No Crime to Film the Cops

In 2014, cellphone video of the New York police choking Eric Garner to death sparked protests nationwide. His dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for tens of thousands, symbolic of life for black people in America seeking to survive in a racist, segregated society rigged against them at every turn, and under constant threat of cop violence. The NYPD, outraged at being exposed for its killing of Garner, never forgave Ramsey Orta, the man who caught it on video. In the years since, he has been targeted for reprisals, repeatedly arrested, harassed and threatened by the cops. On October 3, he was sentenced to four years in prison on drug and gun charges resulting from this vindictive campaign. Free Ramsey Orta!

Orta is not the only person who has been victimized by police for filming their atrocities. Chris LeDay, who posted video of the killing of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police this July, was arrested at his workplace the next evening on accusations of assault and battery. Unable to make the bogus charges stick, the police then jailed him overnight for unpaid traffic fines. Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the convenience store outside which Sterling was shot, also filmed the killing on his cellphone. He was detained for six hours—four in the back of a hot police car—and his store’s CCTV system, including camera and video footage, as well as his cellphone were all confiscated. Kevin Moore—who filmed Baltimore cops tackling Freddie Gray and throwing him into the police van in which he was given his fatal “rough ride” in 2015—was also arrested and then released without charge. He has described his experience of cop harassment: “They ride past me taunting me with their phones up.”

The thugs in blue not only engage in reprisals against those filming them, but also seek to confiscate the videos before they can be circulated. Diamond Reynolds heroically filmed and streamed the aftermath of the cop shooting of her boyfriend Philando Castile. She was then handcuffed and detained until 5 a.m. The police have even collaborated with social media companies to shut down livestreaming of their deadly actions. In August, Baltimore County police attempted to serve a warrant on Korryn Gaines, a 23-year-old black woman, at her home. Seeking to document their treatment of her, she livestreamed the ensuing stand-off to Facebook. At the cops’ request, Facebook shut off her account and deactivated the stream. Having ensured there would be no video evidence, the cops then shot Gaines dead, while she was holding her five-year-old son.
Repression against those who film the police is an expression of the cops’ desire to cover up their crimes and intimidate any who would seek to document them. Every video of police brutality and harassment gives lie to the myth that they “serve and protect” anything but the property and domination of America’s racist capitalist ruling class. More broadly, state forces seek to hide the evidence of their repressive role.

While most courts have ruled that people have a First Amendment right to film the police, a federal court in Pennsylvania ruled in February that, in general, there is no right to do so; the ACLU is appealing this decision. But, court rulings favorable to the oppressed are no guarantee that the cops won’t violate people’s democratic rights. Moreover, they do not alter the fundamental role of the police—violent repression of workers, black people and immigrants.

State murder across the U.S., especially of black people, is nothing new. It is an extreme expression of the forcible segregation of the mass of black people at the bottom of society, a legacy of slavery. What is new is merely the degree to which, with the proliferation of smartphones, everyone can now document the harsh realities of this barbaric system. Years of protests, years of videos, years of preachers and prayers and pious promises by cynical Democratic Party hacks have not dented these harsh realities one bit. A week doesn’t go by without the racist police executing another person, whose life is memorialized by another hashtag.

The righteous anger against the thuggish police must be transformed into a struggle against the social order they defend, a struggle to make the working class the rulers of a new society. What is necessary is to uproot entirely the capitalist state and the system it defends—one where the capitalist exploiters idle in luxury while the mass of society is condemned to a life of toil, should they be lucky enough to find a job at all. The fight for a socialist future begins with unlocking the power of the integrated working class. The key is forging a multiracial revolutionary workers party committed to the fight for a workers government.

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